Discovered: Wasps store yeast in their guts; one cause of blindness in newborns has been identified; science explains why we love karaoke; and start getting used to droughts.
Get used to drought. From 2000 to 2004, the worst drought in 800 years ravaged western North America, drying up forests and depleting rivers. But this chronic drought wasn't a fluke, and scientists say that we should start getting used to dry spells. Oregon State University researcher Beverly Law, one of 10 scientists who studied climate models and precipitation projections in order to forecast future drought, warns, "Climatic extremes such as this will cause more large-scale droughts and forest mortality, and the ability of vegetation to sequester carbon is going to decline." [Oregon State University]
How Karaoke works. Karaoke is one of our stranger rituals. Reading words highlighted on a little TV screen, we amateurishly sing along to mechanized pop songs in front of a group of our drunken peers. Musicologist Alisun Pawley of the University of York wanted to know why, so she did 30 nights of fieldwork in karaoke bars across five English cities. She discovered that songs featuring strong, anthem-like male vocals are the most popular in karaoke (think Queen or the Village People). What's going on within a bar helps facilitate karaoke's role as a form of "neotribal bonding," Pawley says. The formula for successful karaoke includes big venues, young crowds, and lots of unattached people. "When you’re single there’s an added goal." [Wired]
How wasps incubate yeast. The question of how yeast—that essential living ingredient in bread and alcoholic beverages—survives during the winter has confounded scientists. During the summer, Saccharomyces cerevisiae can be found in the wild on ripe grapes and berries. Now, Irene Stefanini and Leonardo Dapporto from the University of Florence have discovered how it rides out the colder months. Yeast finds a warm winter home in the guts of hibernating wasps. "There is substantial interest in using the power of yeast genetics to understand evolution," says yeast specialist Justin Fay of Washington University. "But to do so, we must have at least some basic idea of its natural history, where it lives, how it gets around, and so on." This discovery takes one step in that direction. [Discover]
The surprising genetic basis of LCA blindness. A team of international scientists working with the McGill University Health Centre has cracked one of the biggest mysteries in blindness. Scientists were able to pinpoint the NMNAT1 gene as the culprit in Leber Congenital Amaurosis, a genetic form of blindness that occurs in newborns. The finding is surprising, since NMNAT1 is a crucial part of every human's genetic code. It produces the coenzyme NAD, which is involved in hundreds of cellular reactions. "When we discovered the new gene was NMNAT1 we thought it was impossible, because—from bacteria to human—it plays such an important role in life that we believed if you had a mutation on NMNAT1 you would die," explains McGill's Dr. Robert Koenekoop, the study's lead author. Based on this research, scientists hope to develop NAD-boosting drugs that may help stave off LCA blindness. [McGill University Health Centre]